Thoughts on Reading ‘Sophie’s World
“Sophie, you should care about whether you are a person living on a small planet in a wonderful universe or just some electromagnetic waves in the mind of a major. But you only care about your transcript! You should be ashamed!”
“Sophie’s World” is a long novel about the history of Western philosophy created by Norwegian writer Jostein Gaarder. It takes the form of a novel and reveals the development of Western philosophy through the process of a philosophical mentor imparting philosophical knowledge to a girl named Sophie.
The book has two main threads: one is an introduction to philosophy and a brief overview of major philosophers and their ideas, and the other is Sophie’s experience. It mainly talks about Sophie learning philosophy from a mysterious man, and later discovering that the world she is in is just a novel, and as the novel ends, the world begins to collapse. They finally escape from that world with the help of the author’s daughter.
The author’s intention in designing it this way is also very clear. Writing about the history of Western philosophy alone can be boring, but if there is an interesting story interspersed with it and mutually verifies with philosophical thinking, it would be even better. As a matter of fact, he succeeded, and this book has almost become a must-read for anyone who is first exposed to philosophy.
The idea of reading it came from seeing a netizen saying, “People who want to commit suicide should read philosophy first.”
Sophie’s World is not very long, but it took me half a year to finish reading it. I must admit that many of the contents in the book have shocked and inspired me. I will introduce them one by one below.
1. Plato’s “ideal world”
Plato believed that there is an “ideal world” that reflects the real world. For example, in the real world, there are hedgehogs, but there is no hedgehog that is exactly the same as another. Why is that?
It turns out that in the “ideal world,” there is an “ideal hedgehog,” which is the most perfect hedgehog and the model for all hedgehogs in the real world. However, there is no hedgehog in the real world that is as perfect as it is. Every hedgehog has its own flaws.
Aristotle opposed this view.
Aristotle believed that there is no “ideal world.” We are familiar with hedgehogs, and people created the concept of “hedgehog” before anyone thought of an “ideal hedgehog.”
Aristotle’s viewpoint is more consistent with the present. But Plato’s “ideal” theory really shocked me because I never thought about it that way. Perhaps only curious and imaginative philosophers would have such a view.
But on second thought, isn’t the reason why I haven’t thought about it that way because I’ve accepted the so-called “correct” viewpoint? Maybe there really is an “ideal world,” otherwise, how can there be so many “perfectionists?”
2. Is the mind of a person who has not experienced the world a blank slate?
If it were not for sensory experience, we would have nothing in our minds. This is what “Sophie’s World” summarizes when discussing empiricism in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Empiricism is an epistemological belief that human knowledge originates from sensation. Nowadays, empiricism is often used as an adjective to describe making judgments through subjective speculation rather than observation and experimentation. The two “empiricisms” are not the same. Compared with the now-positive term “rationalism,” I prefer the philosophy of empiricism at that time.
“Sophie’s World” introduces three empiricist philosophers: Locke, Hume, and Berkeley.
In the book, Berkeley’s philosophy caused great panic for Sophie but also reminded them that they were characters in the book. In the end, Sophie and her philosophy teacher escaped from the world of the book, but how do they know if they have entered another “world of the book”? Unfortunately, this is actually the case, and they are still characters in the book “Sophie’s World.”
This ending is one of the reasons why I don’t like the story in the book. It gives me a sense of powerlessness over fate. Are we also characters in the “world of the book” or in someone’s created world?
3. There is no “eternal truth”
The only fixed point in philosophy is history. For Hegel, history is like a flowing river, and people’s ways of thinking are influenced by the traditional ideas and material conditions prevailing at the time, which push them forward like the current of a river. Therefore, you can never claim that any one idea is always correct. It is only correct from your perspective in the present circumstances.
Hegel believed that there is no absolute right or wrong. Indeed, there is no philosophy that is correct; we can only say that the philosophy that fits the current situation is correct.
In modern times, philosophy has declined. Philosophers’ questions about the origins of the world and humanity have been transferred to the realm of physics, biology, psychology, sociology, and so on. Therefore, “Sophie’s World” introduces Darwin, the Big Bang, Freud as a cultural philosopher, and modern philosophy focuses more and more on human beings themselves. But philosophers should be happy because everything is getting closer to the truth.
People who are confused about life can learn from philosophy. Philosophers also think about life and the world, and their insights may be useful to us. Reading books on psychology makes me want to love life, while reading books on philosophy makes me begin to think about the broader world beyond myself. As the philosophical mentor said at the beginning of this article, how can we be content with just worrying about our grades?